KANSAS NATIVE VOTE: Verna Simon visiting the Get Out the Native Vote display table that was staffed by Marzha Fritzler at the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. (Photo from tribal web site.)
What’s with Kansas? Well, the first thing you need to know is that early voting started yesterday, October 15. So the answer to that question is coming soon.
To give you an idea about why it’s even a question you have to look back at the year 2012. Mitt Romney trounced Barack Obama earning 60 percent of the vote. The Republican challenger won every county except Douglas, home to Lawrence, the University of Kansas and Haskell Indian Nations University.
In 2012 — and until a couple of weeks ago, in 2014 — you could look at any political map and Kansas would not be a “focus” state because it was close to a sure thing for Republicans. But the easy re-election of Senator Pat Roberts and Governor Sam Brownback hasn’t followed the script.
Before he was governor, Brownback was the senator who sponsored a U.S. apology to Native Americans, a measure included in appropriations for the Defense Department. That resolution expressed“regret for the ramifications of former wrongs and its commitment to build on the positive relationships of the past and present to move toward a brighter future where all the people of this land live reconciled as brothers and sisters, and harmoniously steward and protect this land together.”
As governor, Brownback has promoted a “real, life experiment,” implementing just about every idea from the conservative agenda. He rejected the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, drastically cut taxes, state programs, and eliminated some 2,000 state jobs. Critics called it “radical Republicanism.” The New Republic said the governor “tried to create a conservative utopia. He created a conservative hell instead.”
None of this made Brownback popular.Throughout the summer he trailed Democrat Paul Davis (who was recently endorsed by many Republican elected officials holding city and state offices).
The race has now tightened, it’s essentially a tie in the polls.
The other high profile race is in the Senate. Senator Roberts was cruising to an easy reelection until September when the Democrat suddenly dropped out of the race in favor of independent Greg Orman. That changed everything. As the Kansas City Star noted in its endorsement editorial, “Orman’s pledge to be an independent voice for Kansans and the country is refreshing. … Kansans must send to Washington an elected official who’s ready to solve problems, not allow them to fester.”
Roberts was one of eight senators who tried to block the Violence Against Women Act from even getting a vote.
The Senate race, too, is close. The average of all polls collected by Real Clear Politics shows both candidates with 42.5 percent support. Tied.
If this election is the rise of independents, what about the role of the ultimate independents, American Indians? It’s a small population, a little more than one percent of the state’s population. There are four reservations, an urban population, and a community of students at Haskell. Last week, the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nationheld a registration drive that included a taco dinner to door prizes at a powwow.
In a state as close as Kansas that small community could provide a potent answer to “what’s with Kansas?”
Mark Trahant holds the Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the freeTrahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.